The Dog’s Bollocks

Truth is like a dog’s bollocks – pretty obvious if you care to look.

Is Malcolm Fraser a leftist luvvie?

Malcolm FraserIn his recent Commonwealth Lecture, Malcolm Fraser argued that “Our strongest weapons against terrorism are our own principles and belief in liberty. We do not need to overthrow our principles. To the extent that we do, we give a weapon to the terrorist.”

The belief in liberty is a tenet of Libertarianism, yet many Australian Libertarians are ardent supporters of war as an agent of peace and the War on Terror generally. If Fraser is correct, does this constitute a conflict of philosophical interest?

In my youth I despised the politics of Malcolm Fraser with a vengeance exceeded only by my present loathing of the politics of John Howard. I find Fraser’s musings, as a senior statesman of Australian politics, to be refreshing, insightful and on-the-money. Would the right wing now regard him as a leftist? Has the Liberal party moved so far from the legacy of Menzies as to be no longer deserving of the moniker?

Should anyone of a libertarian bent wish to disabuse me of the self-evident truth of what Fraser is saying, please do so, preferably with something more intellectually rigorous than variations and elaborations of: “He’s a fuckin’ leftist moron, you stupid fuckin’ leftist moron!”

I haven’t been able to find a transcript of the lecture, but I borrowed a draft document from Crikey through HarrangueMan. Following are excerpts pertinent to the argument.

On The War on Terror

The War against Terror is important, although it should not have been called a war because if terrorism is going to be overcome it will be overcome by wise policy, much better intelligence than we have had to this point and by good policing. But it is a threat and I do not want anyone to construe my remarks as denying that threat. Our strongest weapons against terrorism are our own principles and belief in liberty. We do not need to overthrow our principles. To the extent that we do, we give a weapon to the terrorist.

In your mind prepare two lists. One, what should you do to maintain a broad based coalition in the fight against terrorism, of the kind open to President Bush after 9/11, and another list, what should you do if you wanted to reinvigorate the terrorist movement and drive the West towards a decades long war against Islam.

On the first list I would have said to continue to act on our own principles, to maintain honest and open policies and to behave fairly to all people and to encourage strongly a peaceful resolution of problems between Israel and Palestine. Under current American policy that was never an option. The United States ran out of targets for its bombers in Afghanistan and then wanted a more emphatic demonstration of United States power and so it went to war in Iraq.

President Bush’s closest advisers, neo Conservatives, foolishly believed that it was within America’s power to force political change in the Middle East and create a democratic Middle East in the process. Democracy imposed by force in Iraq would be followed by democracy in surrounding countries. It was from that point an aggressive war without analysis, thought or reason. The damage done to United States influence and prestige around the world has already been enormous and America still refuses to take the necessary steps without which an end to conflict will be impossible. An active, diplomatic engagement of all Iraq’s neighbours is critical to a final resolution of this unhappy conflict.

I am opposed to an arbitrary date being set for a full American withdrawal but only on condition that the diplomatic process is set in train. If it is not, continuing American military involvement will only lead to greater calamity, to greater disaster and to an even greater destruction of American reputation.

The war in Iraq has made it extraordinarily easy for fundamentalist groups to recruit would-be suicide bombers to fill the ranks of the terrorist armies. But it is not only from Iraq and from Islamic countries that such recruits can be drawn. The West’s attitude to Islam is now capable of being depicted as so antagonistic, so destructive and hypocritical that it is possible to raise recruits from countries such as the United Kingdom. When Prime Minister Blair says he has made Britain safe and the prosecution of the war in Iraq is fundamental to the preservation of British freedom, he shows how little he understands the consequences of his own action and the damage that war has done within Britain itself. It has also made it difficult for moderate Islamic Leaders to maintain their moderation, especially in the face of other breaches of principle by the West.

On David Hicks (worth a post on its own)

…And so this story comes to an end but at what a price. The main story is not David Hicks. The main story is a willingness of two allegedly democratic governments prepared to throw every legal principle out the window and establish a process that we would expect of tyrannical regimes. That our own democracies should be prepared to so abandon the Rule of Law for an expedient and as I believe, evil purpose should greatly disturb all of us. But how many are concerned? Too many are not concerned because they believe that such a derogation of justice can only apply to people who are different, in some indefinable way.

A Liberal who fails to recognise the central importance of these issues for the maintenance of a fair and just democracy, bears no resemblance to the Liberals of Menzies’ day and to the Party that Menzies founded.

A civilised society is be judged by its adherence to the rule of law, to due process and the ease with which all people would have access to the law. It is judged by the way it treats minority groups.

On Justice and Civilisation

We would do well to heed the words of Israeli Professor Naomi Chazan in the recent Gandel Oration in Melbourne: “There is one standard and one standard for all, and the challenge that is posed by terrorism is how to defend the rights of those that we don’t agree with?….How can we defend the rights, the basic human and civil rights, of those whose ideas we simply abhor? It is the system, the process, the courts, it is the measurement of justice that determines the nature of our civilisation.”

I do not know of any other democracy that has legislated for the secret detention of people the authorities know to be innocent. You are not allowed to make a phone call. You cannot ring your wife or husband to say where you are. You just disappear. You are not allowed to ring a lawyer unless that is specifically conceded in the warrant for your detention. If you answer questions satisfactorily that’s fine. If you don’t, you can be prosecuted and go to jail for 5 years. There is a defence against that prosecution, if you can prove you never knew anything, it is not an offence, but how can you prove you did not know something if you don’t even know what they are talking about? We do not know how much these laws are used because the law itself prevents any public reporting or discussion.

We should remember that as governments maintain support by playing on the politics of fear, so too they tend to exaggerate the fear and to expand the concerns of people. This process leads to a further exaggeration of fear and to further alarmist reactions.

If current polices led by the United States are to prevail, supported as the United States has been by Britain and Australia, then we run two risks. A decades long war against Islam with the possibility of extraordinary destruction throughout the world, and the possibility that our government will build within individual Australians a fear and concern of Islam that will take decades to eradicate.

Filed under: Australian values, Big Picture, Politics

One Response

  1. Fraser was sin-binned by libertarians 30 years ago for his interventionist economics policy and by many Liberals 24 years ago for losing the 1983 election. I’m not sure whether he would classified as a ‘leftist’, but he has not been popular for a very long time.

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